Start with the customer’s problem and what you’re solving. Powering the Pipeline is a special multi-part series to help businesses sell better.
Here at PipelineDeals, it’s taken us years to fully understand what this axiom really means and how it can fundamentally alter a sales process. The basic premise is that people buy solutions, not products or services. You have to be able to show how your product or service can truly improve the customer’s business.
But you can’t do this effectively until you understand the customer’s problem. This isn’t easy. Customers often don’t have awareness or clarity about their true problems. Plus, their needs change over time, so building your understanding is an ongoing process.
Another factor that trips up many salespeople is the temptation to focus on features and benefits. We fell into this trap for longer than we care to admit. We love talking about the latest and greatest capabilities of our software, but it turns out that this is rarely an effective sales approach. In fact, it focuses the conversation in a counterproductive way.
When you go on and on about the awesomeness of your product or service, the buyer will focus on evaluating you, but is much less likely to see a direct connection to their own needs. This makes it easy for them to just say no. There’s no compelling connection to their business goals and little room for building trust or mutual understanding.
The most effective sales conversations focus on the customer. Your primary goal should be to understand their needs, problems, and desires as comprehensively as possible.
When we made the conscious decision to flip the focus of our sales conversations, we saw an immediate jump in our conversions and retention. We were finally focusing on the person who mattered most: the customer.
We’re still working on identifying the best ways to start these customer-focused conversations, but here are some approaches that you may find helpful:
Get Personal. Finding out more about an individual’s interests—and sharing some of your own—helps build rapport and trust, making them more likely to open up about their business challenges and goals. It’s about being a real person having a real conversation and developing a real relationship. (Don’t forget to use PipelineDeals to track these little gems of connection. You can create custom fields to track favorite sports teams, hobbies, or even details about children or spouses.)
Act Like a Consultant. Step out of your sales mindset and imagine that you’re an independent consultant being paid to help the customer do better in whatever area of expertise your product or service represents. Ask open-ended questions. One of our favorites is, “Tell me about a day in the life of a salesperson or sales manager at your company?” This type of question gets the conversation going and helps you learn more about their business process.
Uncover Both Challenges and Strengths. You definitely want to ask about the problems your customer is trying to solve, but make sure to find out about their strengths, areas of potential, and ambitions as well. This will keep you from wasting time trying to sell ideas or features they don’t need. Plus, your best chance of making a sale is to align your solution convincingly with their most optimistic view of the future.
Share Stories. You want to get the prospect talking, but you don’t want the conversation to be a one-sided interrogation. One way to balance it out is to tell relevant stories from your own experience or other customers: “We had another customer in the contracting business who struggled with tracking leads. They found our product really helpful because they could clearly identify and prioritize leads as they entered their pipeline.”
Learn to Listen Well. Listening is a skill that takes practice. Give people time to answer your questions, without rushing them, and then paraphrase what they said to make sure you’ve understood. When appropriate, ask clarifying questions like “Tell me more about that.” and “Can you give me an example?”
Don’t Force It. Be open to the possibility that your solution might not be the best fit. By understanding the customer’s needs before you make your pitch, you can minimize wasted time—both yours or theirs. Instead of pushing a sale which might lead to disappointing results, you can make helpful alternative suggestions, which could result in retaining a useful contact.
What do you think of these approaches? What has worked for you?
JP Werlin is the Co-Founder of @PipelineDeals. He is a seasoned entrepreneur who enjoys building and leading teams of great people. JP is passionate about creating lasting brands that provide value and create mutually beneficial relationships between people. You can follow him on Twitter via @jpwerlin.